Begin by reading Exodus 32:1-6. The Hebrews demanded that Aaron make gods for them to worship and remarkably Aaron did so. Up until this point of the Exodus narrative Aaron had been as the spoken voice of God to the people of Israel. God would instruct Moses, Moses would share the commands with Aaron, and Aaron would in turn relay all that God had said to the people. They had all witnessed the plagues in Egypt, miraculously crossed the Red Sea, and trembled in fear as smoke and fire descended onto Mount Sinai. They had not yet received the written tablets but the words of the Ten Commandments had been spoken by God in Exodus 20. Before and after the commandments were listed all the congregation of Israel said together “All that you say we will do.” So why after all that would they risk provoking the anger of God by making an idol to worship?
They wanted to return to Egypt. At the Red Sea they asked Moses if there were not graves enough in Egypt that he had to bring them out to the wilderness to perish at the hands of the Egyptians. After crossing the Red Sea they celebrated but then immediately complained there was no water. In Egypt their pots had been filled with meat and they missed the onions, leeks, pomegranates and grumbled against God and Moses about how they would starve and thirst to death. They wanted to return to a life they were familiar with. Yes they had served as slaves, but they reasoned it was better to serve in Egypt than to die in the wilderness. The Egyptians had many gods, idols and images and that was the type of worship Israel was accustomed to after 400 years. It was familiar. It was comfortable. And even for Aaron it was easy to slip back into the way they had always done things.
We can not return to where we came from.
The Egyptians had not merely allowed the Hebrews to leave but pushed them out with great haste. The firstborn of all Egypt had died, of both man and beast, and the army of Pharaoh was destroyed violently at the Red Sea. The Hebrews could not possibly have returned to Egypt without being slaughtered. A newborn Christian believer cannot return to former friends and hangouts. “If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation.” 2 Cor. 5:17 The longer we spend in church and around other believers the more visible the change taking place within us becomes. There may very well be a few friends and family members that will always accept us no matter what. But for the most part our former associates that we ran with in the world will no longer desire our company. Keep telling your old drinking buddies what Jesus has done for you and your welcome will wear out real fast. And if you change who you are to fit in then the Spirit within will make you miserable. Just this week I listened to the testimony of a former motorcycle gang member that was saved in prison. He got more than “jailhouse religion,” completing his GED and taking several seminary classes before being released. Today he is an evangelist but… if he is ever caught riding with another group his former brothers will kill him. He has been instructed not to mention their name when he speaks. We can’t go back.
We must keep moving forward.
The Bible clearly states that Aaron carved the golden calf with an engraving tool, but when Moses sees what is going on and asks Aaron about it he first tries to spread the blame around and then outright lies. To paraphrase: “You know how the people are Moses, I couldn’t do anything with them. They demanded gods so I threw their gold into the furnace and out came this calf.” Read the actual wording in vv. 21-24 but you get the gist. The people were judged by God for their disobedience but afterwards came back into good faith. Aaron of course went on to become the first high priest of God’s chosen people Israel, a role passed on to his sons and their sons after them. King David was described as a man after God’s own heart but proceded down a slippery slope of violating one commandment after another. He repented of his sins and although there was a price to be paid (the son he and Bathsheba conceived died) he went on to have a right relationship with God again after that. Not only can we not go backwards on our journey we have to keep moving forward. Read through Hebrews 11 sometime and notice that each man and woman that did anything great for God also had some great flaw. Abraham lied about his wife being his sister, not once but twice. Moses murdered an Egyptian before leading the Hebrews to the Promised Land and because his temper continued to get him into trouble was not allowed to enter himself. Aaron was not perfect, but had to atone for his sins before making purification for the sins of Israel. The Apostle Paul considered himself chief among sinners but reminded us all to press on toward the mark and the prize. We will stumble and sometimes fall. You haven’t failed until you don’t get back up. Don’t let yesterday prevent you from being blessed tomorrow.